By Steve Gunn
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. – While hundreds of families in Washington Township shivered in the darkness in the days following Hurricane Sandy, the local school superintendent relaxed in a fully lit and heated home, thanks to a portable electric generator.
The only problem is that Superintendent Geoffrey Zoeller of the Westwood Regional School District borrowed the generator from the district without permission, then forgot to return it before he left on a weeklong vacation to Florida.
Zoeller also admitted to commuting back and forth to work in the aftermath of the storm in a “borrowed” school district truck that also remained at his house during his vacation. He lives about 40 miles away from his office.
Those revelations have the community in an uproar, according to a news report from NorthJersey.com. The local teachers union reacted to the news by approving a “vote of no confidence” in Zoeller, and the union president called for his resignation.
“We can only hope that Dr. Zoeller does the right thing and steps down, so we can move on with a fresh start” said Barry Albert, president of the Westwood Education Association, in front of a packed audience at a recent school board meeting.
School officials said the generator that Zoeller used was probably a 6,250-watt portable model that the district uses to power sub pumps during flood situations, according to the news report. It could not have been employed to power schools in the aftermath of the storm, they said.
But community residents believe the generator could have been used for some public purpose, instead of providing comfort for the well-paid head of the school district.
“That generator could have helped this community,” local resident Christine Murphy told the school board. “It could have been used to open a warming center in the school. This is unacceptable. The board needs to think about who we want representing this community.”
Zoeller issued an apology for his behavior.
“I am human, and I make mistakes like everyone else,” said Zoeller, who recently received a new five year contract from the school board. “I did not return the borrowed resources before I left, and for that I have no excuse. I ran out of time, but both items remained secure and unused.”
School board members said no decision will be made about Zoeller’s future until the Dec. 20 board meeting.